The 2021 Rocky Mountain Driving Experience (part 1)

2021 rocky mountain driving experience rmde 21It’s been a few years since the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press team pulled together a Rocky Mountain Driving Experience event for us auto writers and media types. You can guess why, but suffice to say it was great to get back with the group just a few days ago and take over the roads above Morrison, Colorado. Most famously, that’s where Red Rocks Amphitheater is, but our base was just a few miles away at The Fort restaurant.

I’ve been to RMDE before [here are my 2016 RMDE, 2017 RMDE, and 2019 RMDE writeups] and it’s absolutely been a highlight of each year, a truly terrific bunch of car enthusiasts, reps from the various auto manufacturers, and affiliated folk. The centerpiece, however, is the cars. A few years ago RMDE is where I drove my first Acura NSX, for example, and another year I fell in love with a beautiful Mercedes convertible that I didn’t want to return.

This year the vehicles we had at the event were a great sampling of modern car design and capabilities. Luxury vehicles like the Genesis GV70, EV’s including both all-electric Volkswagon ID.4 and the plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, and tough trucks including a pre-production Nissan Frontier and the rugged new Ford Bronco. Here’s what I drove and my thoughts on each…

THE 2021 ACURA TLX S-TYPE

We all met up at a hotel in Golden, Colorado, were assigned vehicles, and headed up into the Rockies. Destination: The Fort Restaurant above Morrison, CO. I got there a few minutes late, but lucked out and was assigned the 2021 Acura TLX S-Type for the drive into the mountains. It’s a beautiful car:

2021 Acura TLX Type S

What isn’t obvious is that it not only looks like a sports car, but it drives like one too; underneath that swanky design is one heck of an engine. This vehicle definitely had power to spare, grinding up the steep hills and zipping around tight turns like a vehicle with a far more refined lineage (and far higher pricetag). The TLX is powered by a 3.0L turbo 6-cylinder engine with 10-speed automatic transmission. Averaging a mediocre 21mpg, its sticker price is $53,825.00.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland 4×4

Once I arrived at The Fort, I swapped the Acura for a shiny new 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland 4×4 in “Silver Zynith”. What’s a Zynith? I have no idea. Google suggests it’s a misspelling of “zenith”. 🙂

In any case, like all Grand Cherokee vehicles, it’s a really comfortable larger SUV with room to spare now that it includes a third-row seat, a new addition for the 2021 model year:

2021 jeep grand cherokee overland

Jeep has a huge seller with the Grand Cherokee line – the company has sold over 7 million units worldwide – but I have to admit I find the styling very generic. With the exception of the Wrangler, I feel like most of the Jeep lineup are pretty generic SUVs at this point. Yes, the company has a wonderful history, originating with easy-to-fix utility vehicles in WWII, but most of its design seems to be focused on utility, not style or vehicular personality. 17mpg average, it has a price of $67,210.00.

I tried it in a variety of driving environments, finishing up with “RMDE loop two”, a drive past Tiny Town. I’d never heard of this place, but Tiny Town is a fantastic retro little kiddie park in the middle of nowhere that’s an acre of little scale houses and buildings in a park-like setting. Perfect for the 3yo in your life. If you have tiny ones, Tiny Town would definitely be a fun, albeit tiny, little outing!

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xE

When Jeep decided to get into the world of hybrid vehicles, it made a smart decision to retrofit an existing best-seller with plug-in hybrid technology instead of designing a new vehicle from scratch. The result is the “four by E”, as they call it, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xE. It’s pretty darn nice!

2021 jeep wrangler unlimited rubicon 4xe hybrid

Yes, that’s a plug-in hybrid, and it still has 30″ of water fording capability, 24″ ground clearance, and all the 4×4 features and capabilities that Wrangler owners demand. To say this is a popular addition to the Jeep lineup is an understatement too; from what the Jeep people shared, this is a rare vehicle to drive because demand is through the roof. With 49mpg when you’re using both electric and gas engines, it’s a great vehicle for those rugged soccer moms (some of whom offroad!) and midwest hipsters.

Of course, as a plug-in hybrid, it’s going to have a limit of 20-25 miles then you’re out of juice and running on the gas engine exclusively, but if your daily drive is home – school – work – store – home, then that range might just be plenty. Total price: $61,265.00.

I went from the plug-in hybrid Wrangler to the plug-in hybrid Toyota Sienna…

2021 Toyota Sienna PLT AWD

The Sienna, in its striking “Green” exterior (does Toyota lack a marketing person who specializes in color names?) proved a sleek minivan with tons of room, a very well designed front dash that offered quite a bit of storage, seats that folded into the floor, and much more:

2021 toyota sienna plt awd

We had a Sienna years ago and found it to be a great minivan, reliable, and with tons of storage space, even if it was about as exciting to drive as an AMC Gremlin. Actually, possibly less exciting than a Gremlin. But people don’t buy minivans because they want the thrill of the road, they need space, storage, and flexibility. The Sienna definitely delivers, and as a plug-in hybrid (like the Jeep) it offers a solid 35mpg overall fuel efficiency and about a 28 mile range on all-electric. More importantly, it offers the terrific Toyota continuously variable transmission (CVT) that makes these hybrid vehicles surprisingly fun to drive. Thumbs up for this one if you need a van. $54,212.00.

LUNCH AT THE FORT

We broke for lunch, which started with a presentation by Brandon Girmus from the Stellantis Jeep team. Could you ask for a better backdrop to talk about outdoor-ready vehicles?

jeep shares the latest vehicle updates - rmde 2021 - morrison co

After we got the full Jeep rundown, it was time to head in for a typically exotic The Fort meal, with duck quesadilla and bison sausage appetizers, followed by steak and quail. My vegan daughter would not have been impressed, but I thought it was good, though, as always, cooking for a large group is more challenging than individual meals. Most importantly, it was a chance for us to catch up after an eventful couple of years of Covid, and that was terrific. Really, the fellow car enthusiasts and writers that comprise the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press group are truly stellar bunch, passionate, smart, and (mostly) pretty darn funny too. 😀

After a little bit of time to digest the rich meal, it was time to head out to the parking lot and taking another vehicle for a spin…

2022 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X [Pre-Production]

This time I had a chance to drive a vehicle that’s not yet officially on the market, the 2021 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X. And it’s a solid example of Nissan’s chops in the truck market:

2022 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X pre-production

I was lucky to have Derek from Team Nissan ride along, so we chatted about his hometown of Nashville (where the Frontier is manufactured) and all that Nissan’s been doing to continuously improve its trucks and overall drive experience. I have to admit, I was pretty dang impressed with the Frontier, placing it as a worthy competitor to the popular Toyota Tacoma, a truck that my kids are obsessed with for reasons I cannot fathom.

The Pro-4X includes quite a lot of upgrades from the base pickup truck, but mostly it includes a big crew cab, so it has plenty of space for 4 or 5 people, along with a decent payload and towing capacity. Derek did tell a funny story about wanting to have this particular green called “Camouflage Green” but the big boss nixing that. Instead, it’s called “Tactical Green Metallic”, which is a smidge less macho. The Frontier Pro-4X should price out at $44,315.00.

Note: Look closely at that picture and you can see one of the Tiny Town buildings behind the fence. Ain’t it cute?

I drove the Frontier back and switched to another truck…

[ My tale continues in RMDE 2021, Morrison CO, part 2, including my thoughts about the VW ID.4 EV! ]

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